Every year, our nation's most heroic crash test dummies collide in mock accidents to give you a better idea of a car's ability to keep you safe. We'll explain who runs these tests, how they can help you buy your next car, and why insurers like us care about the results.
the main crash tests and safety evaluations
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), a scientific organization aimed at improving vehicle performance, runs various crash tests that evaluate the safety of new cars each year.
Front-, rear-, and side-impact tests
These tests simulate your car's (and your body's) impact against rigid barriers and some of the heaviest hitters on the road, like trucks and large SUVs. The results can help insurers gauge the risk of serious injury and vehicle damage for a specific make and model. They can also show how well seat belts and head restraints protect drivers from whiplash.
Rollovers, one of the most severe accident types, can exacerbate injuries compared to accidents where cars stay right-side-up. Cars that best maintain their structure (and protect their passengers) in rollover tests, like the 2012 Nissan Cube, Honda Civic, and VW Golf, look that much better to insurers.
Electronic stability control (ESC) tests
Cars with the best-performing ESC systems can help prevent and avoid accidents. If you start losing control of your car, your ESC sensors can automatically apply a brake to the individual wheels that need it and reduce the engine speed. This can help you stay centered in inclement weather, recover after sharp turns, or return to the proper lane if you accidentally swerve.
Because of this, ESC may reduce your risk for certain accidents and the payouts your insurance company would have to make for them. You can't see it, but when you buy a new car with top ESC scores, your insurance company is nodding and smiling.
Low-speed crash tests
Why bother testing a car's resilience at low speeds? Because "minor" fender benders often damage your bumper and, depending on its design, that bumper could actually cost thousands of dollars to fix.
Low-speed crash tests simulate the real-life dings absorbed in parking lots and gridlocked freeways. Needless to say, cars that sustain the least monetary damage in bumper-to-bumper collisions would rank favorably in any insurer's eyes.
why car insurance companies care about crash tests
From your insurer's perspective, the rationale's pretty clear: the better your car performs in crash tests and the more safety features it has, the safer you'll be on the road.
Because there's not as much data on the real-world safety of new cars, crash tests tend to carry more weight on the latest and greatest models. So if you're in the market for a new car and you choose one that scores well in crash-test safety instead of a rollover-prone model, your insurer may reward you with lower rates.
Insurers can tell what car brands are trending on the safe side based on official lists like the Top Safety Picks from the IIHS. This type of list, based entirely on crash test results, allows car shoppers and insurers to see which companies excel at producing safe cars and trucks.
The specific model of a car can be a useful safety barometer, too. For instance, 2 Hondas — the 2011 Civic (a Top Safety Pick) and the 2011 Accord (not a Top Safety Pick) — may affect your car insurance premium differently based on their crash test results, despite being made by the same company.
The year of your car is also a key aspect in determining its safety: the driver of a 2011 Saab 9-5 (a Top Safety Pick) may score a lower car insurance rate than the driver of a 2010 version (not a Top Pick), all else being equal.
using crash tests to your advantage
Visit the IIHS site to research the crash-test results of your current or prospective car or to learn more about the technology behind each test.
And for more expert guidance on various safe-driving discounts that a safe car can help you score, give us a call at 1-800-ESURANCE (1-800-378-7262).
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